Via: San Diego City Beat
License-plate recognition has its eyes on you
With 36 million location scans and counting, local police know where you’ve been
Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 By Jon Campbell
That might seem like the plot of a bad movie, but since around 2010, police agencies in San Diego County have quietly used a network of sophisticated devices called license-plate readers (LPR) to monitor and record the movements of thousands of everyday drivers. Even as you read this, police cars equipped with LPR are patrolling the streets, automatically scanning and photographing every license plate in sight, tagging each with a GPS coordinate and filing the information away. For years.
With 36 million scans and counting—an average of 14 for every registered vehicle in the county—the database provides a mappable, searchable record of the movements of thousands of individual drivers. It’s sort of like FourSquare for cops, except that it’s involuntary, the data is secret and there aren’t quite as many narcissistic hipsters.
The system’s become a routine part of police work in San Diego County. Investigators at several local agencies say the historical data, stored in a database maintained by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), allows police to challenge alibis, locate witnesses and generally nab a lot of bad guys. It’s not just local cops who use it; the FBI, DEA and investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are also tapping into SANDAG’s records, leveraging the broader community presence of local police to prosecute federal crimes and immigration violations.
Police say LPR is the future of law enforcement, a Robocop-style “force multiplier” that maximizes what officers can accomplish. But privacy advocates say the sheer volume of information collected, and the indiscriminate logging of mostly innocent people’s movements, amounts to a broad system of surveillance.
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